Overview of the Causes of Hoarding Disorder

Like many individuals across the United States, you may have some understanding of hoarding, but have many questions about the condition all the same. One of the key questions that you might have is what are the causes of hoarding disorder in the first instance? This article is presented to provide you with essential information about hoarding disorder and its root causes.

What Is Hoarding Disorder

The Mayo Clinic has developed a succinct, widely utilized definition of hoarding disorder:

“Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”

Signs of Hoarding Disorder

Before diving into a discussion of the causes of hoarding, a presentation of some of the telltale signs that the disorder exists is helpful. Bear in mind that in many cases hoarding may be ongoing for an extended period of time before evidence of the disorder is apparent to others. Those with hoarding disorder are nearly always secretive about their situations.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has developed a comprehensive list of the signs of hoarding disorder:

  • Inability to throw away items, including objects of no value
  • Severe stress or anxiety when attempting to discard items or even thinking about taking such a step
  • Great difficulty organizing items
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress and feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by the accumulation of items and living situation
  • Suspicion of other people in regard to items, objects, and possessions that have been hoarded
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions
  • Functional impairments including loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards

Functional impairments associated with hoarding include:

  • Loss of living space
  • Social isolation
  • Family discord
  • Marital discord
  • Financial issues
  • Health hazards

Traumatic Life Events as Precursors to Hoarding

Traumatic events in a person’s life can provide a trigger for compulsive hoarding. Examples of traumatic events that can cause a person to begin hoarding include:

  • Divorce
  • Death of a spouse or other loved one
  • Fire
  • Robbery

Divorce appears to be a hoarding trigger event, particularly for middle-aged women. Divorce doesn’t appear to be a root cause of hoarding among men to nearly the same extent that it is for women.

The death of a spouse also represents a trigger for hoarding in a good percentage of cases. As is the case with divorce underlying hoarding, when it comes to the death of a spouse, it typically is a woman pushed to hoard as the result of this type of life event.

Fire is yet another traumatic life event that underpins hoarding in some cases. The theory is that the profound loss that oftentimes is associated with a fire causes some people to become compulsive about holding onto and protecting objects they accumulate.

In a similar vein, a robbery also serves as the trigger point to hoard for some people. The motivation is akin to that associated with a fire. The loss of personal belongings causes a person to become compulsive about amassing and protecting objects and items.

Other Mental Health Conditions That Lead to Hoarding

Research suggests that there are other mental health conditions or disorders that lead to or contribute to hoarding. These include:

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD

Historically, hoarding was considered to be a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. In recent years, hoarding disorder was set apart as a separate and distinct mental health condition. Nonetheless, there are people with OCD who do end up suffering from hoarding disorder as well. The compulsive tendencies underlying OCD contributes to the start of hoarding conduct.

Depression is also known as a contributing factor to hoarding. This occurs for a number of reasons, including a depressed individual’s growing inability to tend to personal affairs and maintain order in his or her home.

Anxiety and PTSD can also be precursors or root causes of hoarding. By hoarding, a person with an anxiety disorder or PTSD can feel that he or she has gained at least some semblance of control over his or her life. This sense of control exists even as his or her home becomes more and more out of control due to hoarding conduct.

Hoarding and Professional Assistance

In most cases, a person laboring under hoarding disorder necessitates the assistance of different types of professionals, as well as other individuals, in order to regain a semblance of control over his or her life. Examples of professionals and others that likely need to be involved in the process of supporting and assisting a person with hoarding disorder include:

It is important to note that absent a comprehensive approach to assisting a person with hoarding disorder, merely cleaning up a residence likely is not enough to get a person on a lasting, healthy pathway. The fact is that absent mental health assistance and other support, a person with hoarding disorder who has his or her residence cleaned up is likely to return to hoarding. Indeed, in such situations, over 90 percent of people with hoarding disorder will hoard again.